The Witcher has been separated from his destiny. Delivered to the dryads of Brokilon more dead than alive, he craves information about what happened to Ciri. When he hears that the emperor of Nilfgaard has her and is planning on marrying her, Geralt is determined to save her. With a new band of helpers, he begins his journey to save Ciri, but does she even want to be saved by him? Find out in Baptism of Fire, written by Andrzej Sapkowski and translated by David French.
[Warning: My review of Baptism by Fire contains some spoilers (for both the book and the show)!]
A Baptism of Fire for Geralt of Rivia
At the end of Time of Contempt, things are bad. The mages’ conclave is torn apart by treachery, to great devastation. Geralt is almost killed trying to protect Ciri (indeed he would have died if Triss hadn’t teleported him away to Brokilon for some emergency help from the dryads). Ciri herself is teleported to a faraway desert before being accepted into a local gang. And Yennifer is just plain gone, no one can find her.
Geralt may be more than half dead but he’s still completely focused on finding and saving Ciri. When news reaches Brokilon that Ciri is being held captive by Emhry in preparation for a marriage to help legitimize his war, Geralt is done healing. Despite still being in pain and needing more time, Geralt saddles up and heads out to find Ciri.
As is usual Geralt gathers a company around him, despite his best efforts to chase them away. The ever-faithful Dandelion once again joins him, along with an archer and forest guide named Milva, Cahir Mawr Dyffryn aep Caellach (a Nilfgaardian who isn’t a Nilfhaardian), and a whole host of dwarves who are protecting some human women and children. Geralt tries to push these companions away but in the end, he never actually sends anyone away, and good thing. Geralt has a hard road ahead of him to find Ciri and without help, he’ll never survive the baptism of fire that’s awaiting him.
Three narratives building to the finish in Baptism of Fire
Baptism of Fire follows three separate storylines. First, there’s Geralt and his companions that are searching for Ciri. They’re traveling through a war-torn country with only Ciri as a northern star to guide them. They encounter one obstacle after another and are in constant danger of death but they keep on going. But are they even following the true northern star? Or is the subterfuge of war and politics leading them astray?
Then there’s Ciri. She seems to have completely surrendered herself to the life of a criminal. She roams around with the Rats stealing, fighting, and killing without discretion. In fact, she seems to revel in it, especially the killing. Interestingly enough, she doesn’t seem to have any actual memories of her life before the Rats. There are some vague, “it seems like” and “there may have been” thoughts (and nightmares of course), but otherwise she seems to have locked all the memories of who she truly is tightly away from herself and everyone else.
Finally, Sapkowski brings together the remaining sorceresses. In this third storyline, the sorceresses have decided that magic is the most important thing and they will do whatever they must to protect it going forward. Borders are supposed to be left behind and only magic will matter, but old loyalties can be hard to break. Can their new coven overcome old loyalties and amenities? And what are the true goals of the founders?
These separate storylines each build and deepen as Baptism of Fire goes on. But none of them reach a conclusion in this novel. The entire Witcher story is a multi-part saga with five entries to the main story. So the 3rd book is just focused on building the story. The separate plots don’t even manage to merge in this book. This is just an action and movement book, not a conclusion book.
Worried about Ciri in Baptism of Fire
Ciri has always been a lost girl. She ran away from home when she was young. Then her home was stolen from her in a horrific war. Something too horrible to name happened to her when she was kidnapped during the battle. Then she was lost to a farm family, taken by the Witcher to be hidden in Kaer Morhen, passed off to a sorceress she didn’t like, and almost sent to magic school before running away again. Then she travels through a broken magical portal and is lost in the middle of a desert. She never seems to feel at home no matter where she is or who she is with.
Now she’s lost again, and this time she seems to have even lost herself. With the Rats, she seems to find some semblance of family but she’s given up everything that made her Ciri to do it. I’m sure it’s just her trying to cope with all the tragedy and trauma she’s gone through but it’s just so sad to me. And I can just imagine how Geralt will react when he does finally find her. He’s going to be very disappointed in her but also just happy she’s alive. If seeing him doesn’t snap her out of her funk though, he’s going to be very hurt and have a hard time dealing with her.
For the record, I don’t think she’s just going to snap out of it, I think they’re going to have to travel together for a while before she becomes Ciri again. And she’s always be changed by what she went through with the Rats. Alternatively, she might snap back to Ciri as soon as she sees him, crush him in a hug, and become very juvenile again, but I think the former is more likely.
An exciting step on the Witcher’s journey
While there wasn’t a lot of true progression in the story of Baptism of Fire, there was a lot of excitement and adventure. This slight plot stagnation was necessary though I think to expand time and make the ultimate reunions that much more poignant. There wouldn’t be much emotional payoff if Geralt found Ciri after only a day of traveling. And with all the action it didn’t feel like it was a book just biding time for the main event. It was enjoyable in its own right. Definitely don’t miss it if you’re enjoying The Witcher series.
My Rating: 9/10
Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski and translated by David French is available now! Will you be reading it? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus Discord.